Thursday, March 18, 2010

School Days - Chapter 1

Thursday, March 18, 2010.......School Days - Chapter I

One day last week, someone called me Elvera and memories of the difficulties I endured with my name , for almost forty years of my life, flashed across my mind. It started at the beginning of my school days.

I do not remember who accompanied me to Public School #11 in Brooklyn, N.Y., when I was just several months past my sixth birthday, to register me for classes. Nevertheless, whoever it was had to present my birth certificate....and the registrar at the school office depended on the information thereon. All well and good, you would say, until...during the first four days, I would refuse to go back to school after luncheon breaks. On the fourth day, my Mother had enough of this nonsense. Seeking an explanation from my brothers Alfred and Ernie, and receiving none, she could not understand the reason for my distress, particularly since I had previously expressed great joy when informed that I was going to attend school. This transpired in the kitchen behind the store. Mother then sat on a chair, took me into her arms, sat me on her lap, and with my brothers listening, persuaded me with her soothing words to tell her the cause of my distress. Sobbing, I told them that an Italian girl told the Americanos that my name meant tomato-paste, and they were laughing, taunting, and calling me "conserva"....and further to add insult to injury, that my teacher kept scolding me in the presence of 47 other pupils. "What
would she say", Mother asked. She would say: "When I call your name, you must stand-up beside your desk or raise your hand". And Mom, she never calls my name....and when I tell her that I never hear her call me, she walks away very angry. Mother realized that if the Italian girl was calling me "conserva", then the teacher was probably calling me 'Consetta', which was the anglicized way of pronouncing 'Concetta' (but in Italian pronounced con-che-ta). Mother solved the problem.

I returned to school on the fourth day after the luncheon break....and Ernie escorted me to my classroom. With me in hand, he approached my teacher at her desk, and recounted the difficulty they (Mom and brothers) had with me about returning to school for the past four days....and Mom said: "If you are calling my sister Concetta, she will not respond because she does not know that word and does not know that is her first-given name. At home, we call her Elvira (pronounced el-vee-ra). The teacher, a lovely person, apologized....and since she had never heard of the name Elvira (el-vee-ra) before, she asked Ernie "How do you spell it." His reply was "I don't know." (Ernest was ten years old and I imagine it was the first time he was asked to spell anyone's name except his own.) Then the teacher asked him to pronounce Elvira (el-vee-ra) several times and came to the conclusion that it sounded like El-vee-ta, and from there on, I was referred to as Elvita by all my school friends. Upon graduating from Grade School in January 1924, my diploma states Elvita Sperduto.

Shortly after I was attending High School, I remember sorting through some papers with my Mother, and in so doing, came across a packet of envelopes tied with a blue ribbon. Mother handed it to me and asked me to read them. They were the children's birth certificates...both civil and baptismal. I was thirteen years old and it was the first time I read that I was named Concetta Elvira Sperduto. When I questioned Mother why I was not called Concetta, for more than an hour she delivered a very impassioned story. I was also surprised to see that the correct spelling of my name was Elvira.

I thought it was high time to correct a misunderstanding, and on the very next school day, I marched into the principal's office of Girls Commercial High School and corrected the spelling of my name....from Elvita to Elvira. And when I received my high school diploma in January 1928, it was properly noted as Elvira Sperduto.

I stopped answering to Elvita, but since all the other Italian girls in the neighborhood named Elvira (el-vee-ra) anglicized their name to Elvera), I conformed and responded to Elvera , but continued to spell it correctly; that is, Elvira. Is this the end! No sireeee!

For the next 25 years, I responded to Elvera. In 1948, I became a single Mom and found that one job was not sufficient to provide for me and my three children. In order to earn more, after my nine to five workday, I hurried home to prepare for my eight pm to one am job. I became a hat-check girl in Club 28. When I applied for this second job, Mr. Lockwood (my employer)
reviewed my application. He raised his head and said: "I believe you introduced yourself as Elvera , but you signed this application as Elvira (he pronounced the 'i' as in the English alphabet). Which is it? " For my excuse, I advised him that I lived in an Italian neighborhood and that all the other Elvira's rather than pronounce it the Italian-way, decided on Elvera. He seemed annoyed with the stupidity and said: "My wife's name is Elvira...she's a beautiful Southern belle from the hills of Tennesee, a proud Swedish woman, and she pronounces her name Elvira (long 'i'). " I replied: "Mr. Lockwood, I want and need this job. You may call me anything, just give me the job." After one year, I became the Cashier. We became very good friends.

Some years later, the group of singers known as The Oak Ridge Boys wrote a song ELVIRA and pronounce it as did Mr. Lockwood, and as I do now for the past 62 years.

And now more of DID YOU KNOW, especially for my cyberspace friend:

The Bible still is the world's best selling book.

Hydroflouric acid will dissolve glass.

Soldiers arrived to fight the Battle of Marne in World War I - not on foot or by military airplane or military vehicle - but by taxi cabs. France took over all the taxi cabs in Paris to get soldiers to the front.

The human head contains 22 bones.

Men get hiccups more often than women. On average a hiccup lasts 5 minutes.

A green diamond is the rarest diamond.

The oldest inhabited city is Damascus, Syria.

A cat's jaw cannot move sideways.

Humans blink over 10,000,000 times a year.

Despite his great scientific and artistic achievements, Leonardo Da Vinci was most proud of his ability to bend iron with his bare hands.

.............Elvira Oliver


  1. Another wonderful post Elvira. And thanks for the 'Did You Knows'. I enjoyed them.

  2. Great post, Elvira. Found you via Martin's blog!


  3. Martin makes a good signpost! I followed his lead, too...
    Always enjoy a little useless information to round off a story...

  4. Hi Elvira,
    I too arrived here via Martin. I came to take a look and intend returning. One of my favourite sayings is 'You're never too old to have a new dream'.